SAN ANTONIO – The 2021 Martin Luther King, Jr. March will look vastly different this year.
Instead of thousands of people marching in the streets for justice, peace, hope and understanding on Monday, the coronavirus pandemic will force marchers, demonstrators, activists and students to celebrate the life of Dr. King online.
It’s an unprecedented virtual event during an unprecedented age, a time when Americans have faced a global health crisis amid a reckoning of racial injustice.
The remembrance will also take place nearly two weeks after a makeshift noose was erected outside the U.S. Capitol during the deadly siege, in which a man carrying a Confederate flag walked the halls of Congress.
But even with COVID-19 continuing to shift daily life even into 2021, one thing has remained the same: the City of San Antonio’s Martin Luther King, Jr. March has always kept evolving, ballooning in size year after year, while continuing to amplify King’s message.
Front pages from the San Antonio Express-News over the past three decades show how the march has grown to become one of the largest in the country.
The event’s roots date back to 1968, the year King was assassinated, when the Rev. Dr. Raymond Callies started a march on his own to highlight the need for basic infrastructure on the East Side.
That year, only a handful of people attended the march.
The front page of the San Antonio Express on April. 5, 1968:
The event became an official Martin Luther King, Jr. March by the city and MLK Commission in 1987.
The following year, as many as 10,000 people gathered to honor the civil rights leader, including then-Mayor Henry Cisneros and then-State Senator Frank Tejeda.
The front page of the Express-News on Jan. 19, 1988:
On Jan. 18, 1993, two days before President Bill Clinton was inaugurated, about 17,000 people marched in San Antonio.
It was an event that involved “people of all colors,” the report stated.
In Washington, D.C, the Clintons and Martin Luther King III honored the civil rights leader at a remembrance at Howard University.
The front page of the San Antonio Express-News on Jan. 19, 1993:
By 1995, the number of marchers grew to about 30,000, according to an Express-News report.
It was the biggest Martin Luther King, Jr. March in San Antonio at that time, far surpassing expectations by about 10,000.
The year prior, the report states, about 18,000 people attended the march.
The front page of the San Antonio Express-News on Jan. 17, 1995:
In 1997, the beginning of Clinton’s second term and Martin Luther King Jr. Day occurred on the same day.
As the 42nd president took his oath of office on Jan. 20, 1997, about 27,000 people marched in San Antonio despite the cold, rainy weather.
The Rev. Terrence K. Hayes of St. Paul Methodist Church was the keynote speaker that year.
The front page of the San Antonio Express-News on Jan. 21, 1997:
By 2002, about 50,000 people were marching in San Antonio — roughly 12,000 more than the year before.
The front page of the San Antonio Express-News on Jan. 22, 2002:
The number of marchers grew to about 68,000 in 2004, which set the record at the time.
That year, marchers also recognized the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.
The front page of the San Antonio Express-News on Jan. 20, 2004:
The crowd reached 100,000 people on Jan. 17, 2005, days before President George W. Bush began his second term in office.
Marchers took to San Antonio streets to also demonstrate against war and coal plants.
The front page of the San Antonio Express-News on Jan. 18, 2005:
The 2009 march fell on the eve of the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the U.S.’s first Black president.
Resident Prince Simms, who saw the march from outside his house, told the Express-News: “His dream is coming true...”
Then-Mayor Phil Hardberger told that crowd that he could see people “as far as I can see here.”
The front page of the San Antonio Express-News on Jan. 20, 2009:
More than 100,000 people attended the 25th anniversary of the official march in 2012.
That year, Martin Luther King III spoke at Pittman-Sullivan Park.
The front page of the San Antonio Express-News on Jan. 17, 2012:
In recent years, the march has typically attracted about 300,000 people each year.
Due to COVID-19, there will be no in-person event in 2021, but a 2-hour virtual event with speakers, entertainment and scholarship recipients will take place on Monday.
“I believe Dr. Martin Luther King would do virtual if he were here,” Dr. Keely Petty, MLK Commission Chair, told KSAT. “He would have enough sense and enough love for the brethren to say, hey, we are going to do something different.”
WATCH: Throwback Thursday: A look back at the history of San Antonio’s MLK March